Questions and answers about the gelatine industry

Gelatine is a pure protein made from animal raw materials that contain collagen. Gelatine is composed of 84-90% protein and 1-2 % mineral salts. The rest is made up of water. Hence, gelatin is zero carb and zero fat. Moreover, gelatine contains neither preservatives nor other additives.

The most common form of gelatine is edible gelatine which excels in two major application areas. As an ingredient in food, it can be found in yogurts, light cream desserts as well as jellies and gives fruit gums their unique consistency. As an excipient in pharma, it is employed to manufacture hard and soft capsules which are ideal vehicles to safely deliver active ingredients.

Collagen peptides are derived from the same raw materials used for gelatin manufacturing employing an extraction process based on enzymes.  This natural product is made up of 97% protein (dry weight basis). The functionality of hydrolyzed collagen does not lie in its texturizing properties through gelling and/or water-binding, but is manifested by the effects it has on the human body, hence being a looked-for ingredient in functional foods and dietary supplements. Indeed, hydrolyzed collagen provides multiple health benefits by acting as building blocks for healthy joints, bones and muscles as well as skin. Moreover, as a pure protein it is used in weight-loss products such as nutrition bars or diet products.

Collagen peptides are manufactured through the enzymatic hydrolysis of collagen. It is not able to gel due to its low molecular weight a result of shorter peptide chains. Instead, it has a wide range of properties that are associated with health and care.

The food industry uses gelatine for a large number of products. Thus, for example, gelatine gives fruit gums their elasticity and the desired chewing consistency, and it stabilises the cream in cakes. Gelatine makes yogurts and quark desserts creamy and its gelling properties are used to prepare aspics and jellied dishes that are pleasing to the eye. Gelatine also plays an important role in reduced calorie diets: it can bind water and is thus indispensable in the manufacture of light products.

The pharmaceutical industry also avails itself of the extraordinary properties of gelatine: gelatine capsules protect active ingredients and vitamins from air, light as well as moisture and keep unpleasant smells and flavours from becoming perceptible.

Next to edible and pharmaceutical gelatine there is also technical gelatine. It is, for example, used in the photographic industry and in printing houses.

Gelatine is available in stores in various forms. For baking or cooking needs, it is offered as leaf gelatine or in the form of granules. Another variant is red gelatine, which has been dyed a vibrant red for decorative cakes and desserts.

Leaf gelatine has been cut into squares and has a special pattern that results from the manufacturing process. At first glance, this makes leaf gelatine look more like a work of art. It is elastic and flexible and is especially easy to divide into portions. Leaf gelatine is primarily used in households, restaurants, bakeries and butcher’s shops.

Instant gelatine is also soluble in cold water. It was specifically developed for temperature-sensitive products so that the gelatine would not have to be dissolved through heating. It is often used to stabilise foods such as cakes, desserts and other sweet and cold dishes.

Gelatine needs a little time and cold temperatures to bind liquids. Creams, desserts, cream cakes, aspics and all dishes containing gelatine must be placed into the refrigerator for several hours. How long it takes to set a liquid depends on the amount of liquid to be set. Small amounts will already set after one hour, while cream cakes may need several hours.

To set creams for desserts or the fillings of cakes with gelatine, edible gelatine is first soaked and then dissolved in a small amount of liquid. Two to three tablespoons of, for example, cream, milk or fruit juice are enough – it just depends on the recipe. To avoid clumping, first stir about four tablespoons of the cake filling or whipped cream into the dissolved gelatine. Then beat this mixture into the remaining cream using either a whisk or hand mixer.

Rule of thumb for the dosage and swelling of leaf gelatine:

•    For jellies, per ½ litre of liquid: use 6 leaves
•    For cream desserts (with egg yolk): use 4 leaves
•    For moulded cream desserts: use 8 leaves

Leaf gelatine swells when it is placed into a bowl of cold water. A packet of leaf gelatine is enough to set half a litre of liquid. The leaf gelatine is left to soak in the cold water for five minutes, which causes it to swell and soften. Some of the water is pressed out of the gelatine by hand and the gelatine is then dissolved in a warm (not hot) liquid, all depending upon the recipe, by whichthe structure of gelatine changes and it loses its binding properties. Leaf gelatine is easy to work with and very soluble.

Rule of thumb for the dosage and swelling of powdered gelatine:
A standard sachet of powdered gelatine (9 grams) is enough to set 500 millilitres of liquid and is the equivalent of 6 leaves of gelatine.

•    For jellies, per ½ litre of liquid: use 9 grams of powdered gelatine
•    For cream desserts (with egg yolk): use 6 grams of powdered gelatine
•    For moulded cream desserts: use 12 grams of powdered gelatine

The ground gelatine can directly be soaked in the liquid in which it will later be dissolved (for example in fruit juice or whipped cream, or, as an alternative, in water). However, enough liquid should be used that it completely covers the gelatine powder. After soaking for five minutes, the pot with the gelatine is simply placed on the stove and heated on a low heat while stirring until the gelatine has completely dissolved. Again, it is very important to avoid overheating. It may be a bit easier to work with ground gelatine, but it cannot be measured out as easily as leaf gelatine.

Some recipes do not include a liquid that can be used to dissolve the gelatine. In this case, the soaked gelatine can be dissolved without adding any liquid. A bain-marie should be used to avoid overheating. However, only leaf gelatine can be dissolved without the addition of a liquid.

Today, a growing number of consumers show a keen interest in healthier foods with less fat, less sugar and fewer calories. Gelatine goes along with this trend and contributes towards increasing the nutritional value and food quality:

•    As a pure protein gelatine does not contain any fat, carbohydrates or cholesterol
•    In contrast to many other proteins, it is not known to elicit any allergies
•    Thanks to its many excellent properties, gelatine can be used to develop “lighter” foods with no loss of flavour or consistency
•    Gelatine is an ingredient (just like flour and sugar) and does not have an E number

Eighty per cent of the edible gelatine used in Europe is made from pork skins. At the very most, 10% of this raw material comes from cattle, and this primarily from the split (the middle layer of the skin). Bones from cattle and pigs as well as fish make up the remaining raw materials for edible gelatine.

Gelatine is exclusively made from the raw materials of slaughtered animals that have been approved for human consumption. In terms of quality, they are equivalent to the meat products used in the kitchen. Gelatine is a foodstuff and does not need an E number.

The manufacturing process can be broken down into several complex steps, beginning with the extraction of the gelatine from the collagenous raw materials to filtration and ending with sterilisation at 140° Celsius. Taken together, the individual manufacturing steps make gelatine a healthy and safe product.

The manufacturing process of pharmaceutical gelatine is the same as that of edible gelatine. Strict rules apply for both processes. Furthermore, the origins and choice of raw materials as well as the manufacturing process are assessed by the same agencies that are responsible for the safety of medicines. These agencies specifically approve each individual type of gelatine from each manufacturer.

Theoretically, there are substitutes for gelatine. That is, for its individual properties – but not for its multi-functionality. Only few products are as diverse as gelatine. The list of its properties is long and so its consumer groups come from many sectors. As a foodstuff, gelatine binds, gels and stabilises. It can transform liquids into a solid mass and then return them to the liquid state through heating. Gelatine is neutral in taste and is good for joints, skin, hair and nails. In addition, gelatine contains neither fat, carbohydrates nor cholesterol. And in contrast to soy, egg or milk proteins, it has a low allergenic potential.

The raw materials for gelatine production are obtained from licensed slaughterhouses in which all animals are examined by a veterinarian. In addition, BSE tests are carried out in all European slaughterhouses on cattle that are older than 30 months.

In addition to the legal guidelines that apply to the raw materials, a primary safety criterion for consumers has always been the manufacturing process.

Studies show that gelatine consumption has never presented a health risk for humans.

Most certainly not. Gelatine has always been a healthy and safe food. However, consumers have become sceptical since the BSE crisis. Although understandable, this is completely unfounded. As regards its safety, gelatine is one of the most controlled foods – especially after BSE. Based on international research studies, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Commission for Health and Consumer Protection have confirmed that gelatine is a safe foodstuff.

A number of gelatine manufacturers make halal and kosher gelatine that meet Muslim or Jewish religious requirements. The raw materials (fish skin, cattle split and bones) are carefully selected, and so manufacturers can guarantee that the animals that are used to make the gelatine have been killed according to religious guidelines.

  1. Not every fruit can be used with gelatine. A few contain enzymes that reduce or completely cancel out the gelling properties of gelatine. However, this is only true when they are processed raw. If either canned goods are used or the fruit is first cooked, then it is no longer a problem to add gelatine to the mix. Examples of fruit that cannot be used raw with gelatine are kiwis, pineapples, papayas and figs.
  2. When only small amounts are being made, the enzymes in saliva can also interfere with the gelling process. Therefore, do not dip a used tablespoon into a cream base or gelatine.
  3. Once prepared, gelatine should not be placed into the freezer or on the balcony in the winter; the mixture may become crumbly.
  4. Gelatine should never be placed in boiling liquids because it will lose its ability to gel.
  5. When preparing cold dishes such as whipped cream or quark desserts, after soaking the leaf or powdered gelatine in water, it is helpful to dissolve the gelatine in a pot on a low heat. To avoid clumping, it is important to ensure that the dissolved gelatine and the cold cream desserts or whipped cream are the same temperature. For that reason, first add several spoonfuls of the cold mixture to the gelatine and then carefully stir the rest into the cold mixture. But take care: always add the cold mixture to the gelatine and not the other way around.
  6. When preparing warm dishes, first soak the gelatine in water and then stir it directly into the warm liquid or cream until it has dissolved.
  7. Gelatine is especially easy to dissolve in the microwave. The leaf or powdered gelatine is first soaked in water and then placed into a small bowl and liquefied. Which power setting of the microwave to use and how long this will take depends on the machine and the amount. Special care must be taken when preparing smaller amounts because these quickly exceed 80 degrees and can then no longer be used. Then follow the same instructions for use as when dissolving gelatine in cold dishes.